In Which I Take a Thai Cooking Class

as my quick trip to Thailand winds to a close (i’m at the airport now waiting for my flight to Beijing and then to Ulaanbaatar), i’m convinced that there are two “non-sightsee-y” must-dos in Bangkok: a) get a Thai massage (i went to the Lek Massage near the Siam Square Skytrain station twice and really enjoyed the two-hour Thai massage with hot compress, 500 baht, or less than $16, each time) and b) take a Thai cooking class.

i was on the fence about doing it but realized i had nothing planned for today, so i sent off an email early this morning to Silom Thai Cooking School and quickly got a grumpy confirmation call back within 15 minutes (granted, it was at 6:26 AM, so maybe some grouchiness is allowed for) saying their afternoon class was available. i chose this school primarily because it was one of the few open on Sundays and as a bonus had good TripAdvisor reviews and one of the dishes for today* was one of my favorites, tom kha kai! The cost for the class was 1000 baht, or about $32, which i think is quite reasonable.

*schools teach certain dishes on certain days of the week, so if you’re picky be sure to check out their websites and compare menus for the day(s) you are interested in.

All ready to cook!

there were about 20 people signed up for the afternoon class which got split into two groups. as it turns out, our chef, Chef Jay, used to live in the Bay Area so we bonded quite well. our particular group was me, a couple from Slovenia, and six or seven people from France in their 20s working at an online retail startup in Bangkok.

the class started out with a trip to the market where Chef Jay taught us about all the different types of vegetables and herbs used in Thai cooking, then we went to the school. each group had its own floor in what looked like a converted apartment building. there are two main (air-conditioned!) rooms: the eating room and the prepping room. all cooking takes place in the outside corridor, each person with their own stove. you cook your own food and man, i had a blast!

believe you me (and them) when they say don’t eat too much before class because you will have more food than you know what to do with (i couldn’t even finish everything! me! unable to eat! ikr?). all the schools advertise that you will learn a large number of dishes in the span of a number of hours (which is true), but what they don’t tell you (and now it makes sense) is that some of the work is already done for you. at times i felt like Sandra Lee in that you are using some prepped (but, unlike her, not bought) ingredients, though you actually do quite a bit. in any case, i feel quite accomplished given that everything we made was so delicious — as a non-cooker, i astounded even myself.

and now, the pictures!

At the market, Chef Jay explains vegetables and herbs.

Fish at the market (we didn’t get any, though we did use fish)

Washing what we picked up at the market

The completed vegetable platter (which came to us 2/3 done)

Making coconut milk (the coconut was already shredded, we just mushed and squeezed)

Making tamarind paste (it’s sour!). I think we only had to wear gloves when dealing with smelly foods, like this and the fish.

The setup for our first dish, the tom kha kai

Chop chop! Ingredients all set!

All ready to cook!

Tom kha kai (so yummy!)

Completed prep for cashew chicken

Chef Jay teaching us how to make cashew chicken. (Also hope the girl wearing the face mask is feeling better — she had a cold, and I hope she didn’t get me sick!)

All done. One of the other participants breaded the chicken but not enough for everyone and the frying of the chicken was done for us so it was mostly “chop up the vegetables and stir it in the wok.” Surprisingly delish!

Ingredients for fishcakes

Cooking up the fishcakes. Unlike the other dishes, we didn’t do this individually, but we all made a couple.

Completed fishcakes! (Chef Jay made the dipping sauce)

Pounding out red curry paste for our red curry chicken

Ready to cook!

Completed red curry chicken (spicy!). The rice was made for us, and Chef Jay made the bananas in coconut milk for dessert.

We each got an illustrated recipe book (with everything they teach, not just what we made today) and a cooking ladle thingy (a “hok” if my Cantonese serves me right, which as an ABC, is doubtful.)

if you’re going to Thailand, this is a great (and affordable) way to spend a morning or afternoon — who can turn down fun and food? not me! i can’t say for sure if i will ever cook anything we learned today, but it was nice to get to know the local cuisine a little better — and to know it’s not unattainable!

update: i have it on good authority (via a native-Cantonese twitter friend) that it’s not a “hok”:

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